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2012 Update: Fuel is inexpensive in Spain and costs €1.38 per litre for petrol and €1.33 for diesel as opposed to €1.61 and €1.69 in UK, but other prices rocketed at the same time as sterling suffered the Brown/Darling effect. In a small Portuguese supermarket a local sliced white loaf can cost € 3.50 or over £3. Six mediocre Lamb chops were available in LIDL, probably the least expensive supermarket, at €14.20 (more than £13 sterling). True, the Portuguese live mainly on the Fish, but that also has rocketed in price. Bottled gas for cooking has also risen in price by some 30%.
Golfers will have noticed a lot of TV advertising for the Algarve as trade falls off. Needless to say, the Monte Rei course mentioned in my first article (below) is in financial difficulty as will be many others in years to come. There is a singular lack of business flexibility in management of these courses and there seems to remain the sense of 'premium product' which, with developments in Turkey and Eastern Europe is no longer the case. There will be a few bloody noses before realism strikes those at the helm.
The people of Portugal remain charming and inviting and the weather is superb, but travellers and golfers can do far better outside the Euro Zone which has damaged Portugal beyond measure.
On 26th January at 3 p.m. a cloud went by, obscuring the sun for nearly ten minutes. At the same time the temperature dropped suddenly to 15C and, for a few minutes the air felt quite chilly. Fortunately, is a rare occurrence and it is often day after day of wall to wall sunshine. During 8 weeks in the Algarve we suffered two days rain, two days showers and two days of cloud. The remainder was predominantly sunshine with average shade temperatures of between 16 and 18C
We left UK shortly before Christmas. Three cars, six adults and 5 dogs, setting forth to spend 2 months away from the worst of the British winter. The first stage of our journey took us from Portsmouth to St Malo on Brittany Ferries Pont Aven . The choice was made because the vessel has kennels for dogs and, we thought, offered the opportunity for a night's sleep before an early morning start on the French roads on our way to Portugal's Algarve region. This part of the planning was a serious error. The Pont Aven is a quite outstanding vessel with the sort of luxury that one usually associates with cruise liners. Unfortunately, the kennels are on the top deck just forward of the main stack and offer the most horrendous noise and vibration to be found anywhere on the ship. For the dogs it is a traumatic nightmare. Add to this the need to collect the dogs from the kennels at 04.30 and a hellish journey is complete. Lesson learnt: Go Dover to Calais during the day and make an overnight stop at a hotel somewhere a few hours south of Calais. Save money, get a decent night's sleep and save the dogs a bad experience. Fortunately, there are a lot of dog friendly hotels in France, so booking overnight accommodation is not a problem.
Thus, at before 6 a.m. it was tired adults and traumatised dogs that disembarked the Pont Aven en-route Bordeaux for an overnight stop. In winter, the excellent French auto-routes are very lightly used and, despite several stops for coffee etc. We made Bordeaux (Cestas) and the Campanile Hotel in a journey time of about 6 hours, paying some €25 in toll charges. The journey is something over 350 miles of easy driving. The hotel room costs €70 for the night. For day 2 we went for a longer leg, with the objective of leaving a final leg where we could be in the Algarve by a reasonable time to get settled into our accommodation. With this in mind we did Bordeaux to Salamanca (430 miles) on day 2. Generally this was over auto-routes, but there was some single carriageway driving. Again, auto-route tolls amounted to about €25, but the night's accommodation for a double room in the superb Mozárbez hotel was a mere €30 for a hotel of 4-star quality.
There is a tremendous amount of accommodation available in summer holiday resorts during the winter months. Local villas, typically with three bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms and within walking distance of the sea fetch about €750 per calendar month including all utilities, a weekly clean, and a fortnightly change of linen. In summer similar properties fetch €800 plus per week. Inclusion of utilities is an important factor as the night temperature can be as low as 7? and the houses are generally designed to be cool in summer rather than warm in winter, with fully tiled floors throughout (some are fitted with carpets). Apartments are similarly well appointed but are a lot cheaper to rent. If you are seeking winter accommodation, be fussy. There is a lot of property on the market and owners are generally expecting to make their money in summer. Winter occupation is a bonus to them in many ways. Not only do they get some income, but occupation means that they are freed from problems of fabric deterioration due to humidity etc. that are far worse when a house is shut up and unoccupied. In addition, there is a massive over-provision of holiday accommodation in Spain and Portugal and a dip in the European economies means that even summer lettings are becoming precarious.
As an example of what is available, we are occupied a three bed, three bath villa about 150 metres from miles of golden sand. The cost amounted to about £1,000 for two months, some of which cost was saved by not occupying our UK property during the worst part of winter. It turns out that this was more than we need have paid, but first time out you are feeling your way. In the same street there are other winter renters, mainly from Holland, some of whom return year after year.
Cost of Living
Since adopting the Euro, cost of living in Portugal has increased, but it is still substantially less than in UK. There is a wide availability of UK brand foods and surprisingly, although some of them come at a premium price, a good number are cheaper. Many of the supermarkets are owned or strongly influenced by the French and there is a ready availability of staple foods, most at prices substantially below those in the UK. Fruit and vegetables are fresh and inexpensive. The Portuguese eat 13 times as much fish as they do meat and freshly landed fish is always available. Again prices are lower than in UK. Meat, particularly Chicken, Pork and Beef, is readily available and remarkably cheap.
Most towns have their own local market where the best fresh, high quality meat, fish and vegetables are available almost every day. Clothing and textiles are also low cost as is the excellent wine produced in Portugal. Beer seems to come from all over Europe and is at a low price. If you are a newspaper addict, most daily newspapers are now printed in Spain and are available on the day of publication. They are expensive with, as an example, the Daily Telegraph costing €3.20 (just over £2.30) on weekdays and €5 on Sundays. Something of a luxury, but matched several times over by daily cost of living savings on other items.
What is there to do?
The main reason for coming to Portugal in Winter is to enjoy decent weather . Shade temperatures average 16 to 18?, but in the sun it is naturally quite a bit hotter. At the going down of the sun, the temperature drops to about 10? and heating is needed. Cloud and rain do occur, but six days out of 60 is not difficult to bear!
A lot of properties are equipped with dishes and receivers capable of getting Sky free-to-air TV channels which includes BBC and ITV, together with a lot of others, but excluding Channels 4 and 5. If you intending an extended stay, you will probably want to ensure that UK satellite TV is available. Stick out for it. Installation costs c €300, so an owner will find it worth while to provide the installation in order to secure a winter let. This is in their interests because unoccupied properties can become damp and suffer deterioration of decor and overall fabric.
At Lent each year Portugal, like Brazil, gets involved in Carnival . This is not as crazy as Rio de Janeiro, but it is still three days of colour and music, with the Algarve's major event being at Loule, a few kilometers from Faro, that attracts thousands of participants.
Golf is a big attraction and Portugal has some fine courses. However prices are rising to a point where it is cheaper to go just across the border to Spain. Course owners have a strange sense of business in this part of the world. Try to get a discount at the course and you will be told that if you want a discount you will have to book through an agent in town. As an example, Benamor Golf, a fairly average course near Tavira, will charge the casual winter visitor €85 for a round. Go to the agent just outside the course entrance and you can book the same round for €56.